“rain, heartbeats of rain”

Between grief and nothing, I will take grief.–William Faulkner

As is my nature, I have been thinking a lot about the nature of grief while grieving. For the past year since my Mom passed the past three years in the wake of both of my parent’s deaths, I have lived a million distinct deaths–some catastrophic and paralyzing me in my bed, some miniscule and annoying like a fly at night in the heat of West Virginia.

But always grief Grief is there, a companion in my life–more than a stage or an emotion. Sometimes he sits on my chest and tells me a story, removing my capacity to inhale and exhale to the back of my lungs. Sometimes he hovers in the shadows of the night, gently nodding so I don’t forget his perpetuity. Sometimes he sits quietly in the car with me and stares out the window, as I travel about and try to evict him through busyness and productivity. Sometimes he walks around the corner, surprising me through a similar image reminiscent of my parent’s earthly lives. As Ruth Stone writes in “Loss,” “Whenever I turned / I saw [his] eyes looking out of the eyes of strangers.”

10455072_10152561491127813_3590021495027342344_nThis weekend, Grief will no longer be a separate entity wandering around with me; I will see him staring back at me, not as I look in the eyes of strangers, but as I look in the mirror. We will marry under the trees that are standing guard above my Mom’s family’s cemetery on “Hump Mountain”, to the tune of the cardinal’s call and my family’s tears, our hearts aching with the love of the lost. I cannot hide from him any longer, or politely walk out of the room, for by honoring my Mom’s wishes for her ashes, this weekend will solidify that she is gone… utterly and truly and devastatingly gone.

Let there be “rain, heartbeats of rain,” as Dean Young said in “White Crane.”


“The Dead” by Billy Collins


my inner warrior

On Tuesday, I started Yoga Teacher Training (YTT). Right beforehand (I mean why not start off sweaty, right!?), I went to one of the classes led by the instructor of the program. I love yoga, and most classes I leave renewed in spirit and/or sparked in insight. But this class went beyond that…

She started by shouting out all the yogis embarking on the YTT program; it went something like this:

Today I’d like to honor and recognize those taking on the challenge of our YTT program. These people are demonstrating so much strength, so much courage to dive so deeply into self-study and rigorous yoga. They truly are embracing their inner warriors.

Their inner warriors. Love. Well, for the next 55 minutes or so, she proceeded to kick my inner warrior’s ass. But always, she kept coming back to our inner warrior, courage, and strength in stillness. And then, after sweet Shavasana, we sat seated with our hands embracing our heart center, and she said:

Bow to your inner warrior.

And in that moment, I realized exactly who I was bowing to, who my inner warrior is… my Mom.

As my Mom neared the end of her life, very rarely did a day go by without her offering these last words of advice to me:

Mary, stay strong. Be strong.

And of course, she of all people had every right to tell me this. She, the strong woman, who with a fierce grip could open up stubborn jars and shy hearts. She, the strong woman, who scrambled over an electric fence to escape a charging bull in her home hills of West Virginia. She, the strong woman, who drove a semi across several states for a bushel of nuts, without any training or experience. She, the strong woman, who took a hammer to a man that threatened to abuse her or her first daughter. She, the strong woman, who fought colds and cancer with as little medicine as possible. She, the strong woman, who stayed faithful to a man who could not even remember who she was or the life they built together.

I have come into my own strength these last two years. Mom always used to tell me to speak my mind and not let people run over me. I do that now… at least more of it. I am finding myself truer to who I am without the need to please others. That’s my Mom, for sure. I am finding the strength to pursue leadership opportunities, to change the system for the better instead of just complaining about it. That’s something my Mom would be proud of. And yes, even the risk in pursuing self-study, rigorous yoga, and the hopes of teaching yoga someday. That too, came from my Mom.

So, in the end, I do bow to my inner warrior. I bow to you Mom, with gratitude and love and deep, heartbroken-aching for you. Thank you for your strength, in me.

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yoga, to me

The following is my first homework assignment for Yoga Teacher Training (YTT). The prompt: What is Yoga and Why I do I practice Yoga?

Yoga is a prayer. It is a moment to pause in humility, honoring the fact that I am created, and that in this creation I can do beautiful poses–or perhaps fall out of beautiful poses. In countless classes, I have carried the weight of those near and dear to my heart, and through yoga, I have sent them my energy. On my mat, I have interceded for them.

Yoga is a collective breath. It is syncopating with the rhythm of the person next to me, as he/she inhales and exhales deeply, a kind reminder to myself to do the same. Often on my mat, I take the biggest breath of the day, but also the quietest breath, a moment of peace.

Yoga is raising a white flag. It is the moving meditation which allows me to distinguish between what I can control, and what is beyond my control. It is the moving meditation which reminds me to let go of the latter, and be present to the first.

Yoga is a baptism into the present moment, the only moment that ever matters. On my mat, I sanctify my body, my mind, and my life. Through reunion with this, with here, with now, I am entering into the very heart of God–the perpetual I AM.

Yoga is stillness, like a delicate butterfly resting on a flower petal. It is the give and take of action and inaction, a moment poised in perfect balance.

Yoga is a minster, ever ready for my approach, ever insightful into my soul. On my mat, I learn how to move in harmony with my body. On my mat, I learn how to move in harmony through life. I am taught who I want to be, and who I don’t want to be. On my mat, I am taught how to approach the changing, the transition.

Yoga is a dance, the opportunity to approach the stage and risk. Sometimes I fall out of a pose, sometimes I cannot even try a pose, sometimes I feel like a ballerina, but always I am on my mat, trying and striving to detoxify, burn, sweat, transition, anchor, suspend, balance.

Yoga is growth, that one moment when I finally got crow, or I finally transitioned into a headstand out of wide-legged forward fold. On my mat, I am better than I once was, and it is marked distinction. On my mat, my heart swells with pride.

Yoga is the embrace of grace. On my mat, I surrender into child’s pose, unable or unwilling to go further. Letting go of ego, I focus only on what my body and heart are whispering to me. I notice… with grace. I release… with grace.

Yoga is a doctor, diagnosing and tending to root causes of my aches and pain. On my mat, I heal. On my mat, I feel whole.

Yoga is a fire, purifying me from the inside out. On my mat, all that serves me is fired like gold. All that does not serve me is burned to ash and left behind as I walk away.

Yoga is a rock, a moment to recognize the earth beneath me, the earth that is always beneath me, faithfully and steadily supporting me, holding me, honoring me. It is the center of the universe, and the center of my soul.

Jean Pierre de Caussade writes:

The divine will is a deep abyss of which the present moment is the entrance. If you plunge into this abyss, you will find it infinitely more vast than your desires.

I practice yoga because it is an entrance into the present moment, in which I can find the Divine–infinitely vaster than myself. march 2014 086

an ocean poem

“beach glass: or what I found on the beach”

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the sea is a turquoise heart

pulsating with life

ever filtering, ever glittering

with each wave, pumping lifeblood

into a million liquid heartbeat

stories of salt.

I, too, am heart.


the sea is a pillowey breath

inhaling and exhaling

from our collective lungs

sometimes deep crashing

sometimes tranquil bobbing

a rhythmic circle of

give & take, claim & release

liquid surrender

to the storied sands of time.

I, too, am breath.


what I wish I would have known as a newlywed

This post, just like this one, is a part of the Synchroblog series, a group of diverse bloggers exploring through words what matters. This month’s prompt: If I could go back in time and tell myself something I wish I knew…

262678_10150279061752813_8244195_nThis month marks the 12th(!) marriage anniversary for my best friend and I. And like all relationships, ours was born of a certain context which defined the paradigms of “us.” Our marriage nearly ended after it begun; some of those paradigms created the toxic battle ground on which we almost imploded. So if I could, I would go back and redefine some of those paradigms.

Paradigm #1 Redefined–The only role you should adhere to is the one that works for you, for him, and for the both of you. Spending my formative years in a radical, conservative church meant that I was designated, as the woman, to be the “helper.” I was not to lead; I was to follow. I was to be subdued, with a gentle and quiet spirit, beside my man, nodding gracefully as he made the decisions. This fostered so much disharmony in me. I was a natural, dynamic leader…who needed a man to get anything great done.(?) Nothing in me was quiet and gentle. These innate abilities led me to question God frequently and doubt my role in His Kingdom. “Why would you make me like this, if I just have to diminish it, if I can’t really use it unless there is a man in the picture?” As one could imagine, all these predefined roles and the oppressive weight they carried walked down the aisle with Dave and I. Our natural personalities, obviously oversimplified, were: me, loud and obnoxious, the life of the party. Dave: quiet and pensive, the servant behind the scenes. And always I felt condemned by “the Biblical role,” for those roles were opposite what they were supposed to be!

After much struggle and maneuvering and talking, Dave and I have found our path away from those traditional, predefined roles. We just are. We just make it work. We navigate roles like some form of relationship code-switching. We are a true partnership.

Paradigm #2 Redefined–Let go of expectations. This naturally follows the first. What almost destroyed our marriage were the “supposed tos”.  He was supposed to lead. I was supposed to follow. He was supposed to make decisions. I was supposed to submit. He was supposed to come home to a warm dinner that I was supposed to have prepared. He was supposed to plan romantic date nights and I was supposed to give it up. We were supposed to have passionate, active sex lives. He was supposed to initiate and I was supposed to respond. He was supposed to seek leadership opportunities while I was supposed to stand behind him. We were supposed to have deep friendships. We were supposed to balance the art and science of being newlyweds while devoting exorbitant amounts of time to the church. He was supposed to do this and this and this as a model Christian, while I was supposed to do that and that and that. Dave and I were so consumed with what we were “supposed to be like” the first years of our marriage, we lost all track of what was actually happening and how it should be addressed. Most of our fights centered around:”well it should be like this, or I should feel this way, or you should be doing this…” The landmines of a marriage: should ofs and supposed tos.

The place we have come to now, thank God, is something along the lines of old adage: “we make the road by walking.” We needed to let go of expectations of what the road should be like and just be present together, carving it, stopping and rerouting after a good old-fashioned fight, napping along the way, noticing other roads without judgment, making and remaking companions, maybe pausing for fireworks–or let’s face it, just sparklers.

In the end, what I wish I would have known, is there is no such thing as a perfect marriage, or even an ideal marriage. The only thing that matters is two present people stubbornly committed to the  messy motto of: keep on keeping on.



For other voices writing to the same prompt…

how not to finish a school year

Tomorrow I leave for Cancun.

And here’s my confession: there is no joy in that statement.

Not yet, at least.

For the past two Junes, we have traveled to the humid, beach sanctuary devoid of technology and flooded with tequila shots at the swim-up bar. It is what we need to reconnect…with God, with each other, with ourselves–and for last year and this year–with our best friends.

securedownload (4)But I sit here, surrounded by snotty tissues, coughing my lungs up, eyes puffy from crying and nose sore from running and chest sore from hacking. Of course, the minute I am “on vacation,” my body succumbs to sickness. This is my body telling me: “you pushed too hard.”

Which, sadly, is a truth to frequent in my life. And so, I’d like to have a little conversation with my self, about what not to do again.

Dear Self,

  • Don’t be so important that you refuse to say no. Nothing is important enough to sacrifice your soul or your body.
  • Stop rushing. Start being present. This moment is all you have…and will ever have.
  • Don’t use yoga and running as a way to work towards a beach body while simultaneously spinning around like a chicken with your head cut off. This is counter-productive, as shown by your expanding muffin top as of late. This is also disrespectful. Pursue exercise as a chance to be healthy, not as a superficial means to an end.
  • Open the door for Grief, who is always lurking to enter (more to come on this later).
  • Remember that you are not God. You need God. Bow.
  • Give generously to others–but also to yourself: your heart, mind, and body.
  • Release the clenched grip. Allow things to fall apart. Greet your tattered, white flags with grace.
  • Be vulnerable. Do not hide behind falsetto apologies.
  • Staying busy will not prevent the emotions which need to be released from rubbing you raw. Staying busy will pour salt on the ever-expanding wound. Let yourself go there.

That’s it for now. Let’s hope the beach and the ocean slow me down and heal my body…as well as things unseen.


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